By Sanjay K Bissoyi:
“Everyone is calling, water, water where are you? But, she has stopped listening to us. Water, the driving force of all nature, without you no one can live on the Earth.”
Water shortage in recent times has become a major concern for our agriculture and economy as summers stroll in. The beginning of summer dryness this year is a bit early with drought in several states, including Maharashtra, which in fact sends chills down the spines of millions of farmers across the country. What a paradox it is for our country’s agriculture which suffers losses when India has an untapped resource of 4 trillion cubic metres of water (through rainfall) which means sufficient drinking water being available for every person daily throughout the year. We suffer a dire shortage of water since a lot of the available surface water is wasted in India due to lack of prudent management.
The drought condition of Maharashtra is a result of a poor water management system that includes poor water reservoirs, irrigation, and rainwater harvesting. It is inefficiency, and lack of social responsibility that have led Maharashtra and other drought affected areas to such extremes.
The implementation of schemes and agricultural assistance alone cannot suffice. Educating the multitude of farmers, awareness campaigns, sustainable development, and good governance is what the government needs to do.
Every government must consider providing sufficient water for farmers since many are not acquainted with systematic methods to battle extreme conditions. Almost every poor farmer relies on the government for it is the leaders who form the government who promise to elevate them from the pathetic condition in every election. But providing facilities for the farmer without prudent governance to administer the system will simply not lead to any progress for our farmers.
The government should keep a strict watch on construction and other activities as they can disrupt and paralyse the underground water networks. Despite repeated warnings, the damage caused is irreversible. Nominal GDP cannot impress the nation. Jobs created by destroying natural resources, wiping clean our forests, will not elevate the destitute. Real growth can only be achieved when the production is high but at a low cost. Environmental degradation has introduced us to many challenges. Poor farmers and village dwellers should in fact be awarded for protecting forest resources and for their concern to safeguard the natural habitat from exploitation by multinational companies.
The government can perform better by focusing on the significance of proper maintenance of dams, lakes when they go dry, strengthening embankments, deepening of reservoirs to augment storage capacity and productivity.
Respective state governments must be ever prepared to battle extreme conditions when drought, soil erosion, and disaster hit the region. Each drop of rainwater counts and must be saved and harvested. Sustenance in future depends on prudential management in the present. Tens of thousands of tanks, irrigation canals, watersheds, reservoirs, and ponds need to be constructed in water-starved areas like Latur to harvest the rainwater and save it, which, in the longer run, would augment the ground water in the area.
The spectre of fresh water crisis looms not only in Maharashtra but has also appeared in Odisha. Water has become a scarce commodity in rural areas of Odisha, where women trek a long distance to fetch safe water. In Paniachachu village, a tribal-dominated district in Nabarangpur, Odisha, women walk a distance of five kilometres only to bring water to their homes. In this period of scarcity, people have to bring water from irrigation ponds and wells. Among children, it is mostly girls who fetch water. They have to walk a long distance and, as a consequence of this, they face various health problems.
In my village (Gudra, 100 kilometres away from Jagdalpur, Bastar), as many as 500 people queue up at a well to get drinking water. For water for bathing and other day-to-day purposes, my people depend entirely on ponds. Every day, 500 fight to get a sip of life. And what is more ghastly is that poor people who can’t afford to buy safe water for daily use are compelled to sustain themselves with unsafe water that can breed diseases.
Nabarangpur district receives an average rainfall of 1,570 mm annually which can actually suffice. But people still suffer from an acute shortage of water due to neglect in maintenance. The present drought condition should convince us that the water shortage in India is neither natural nor due to lack of resources. It is a manmade problem. According to news reports, due to the intense heatwave, 59 deaths have been reported so far only in Odisha allegedly due to sunstroke. Despite all this, as some have claimed, several regions in Odisha are yet to receive proper relief from the government.
Fresh water scarcity needs to be mitigated quickly before it turns into a water war. A water abundant state should render assistance and educate the people in preparing for such disasters. History shows that humans have the amazing ability to conquer difficulties. So, it is time to improve water conservation management and technologies. Countries like Singapore recycle water to cut imports. Countries in the Middle East also use such methods to slake their thirst. Desalination has also been an effective solution for water crises.
An important source of water, the rain, is not harvested. India should revive the ancient rainwater harvesting systems giving them a modern touch. Worldwide, more than 70 percent of the freshwater is used for agricultural purposes. The state can close the supply and demand gap by improving irrigation facilities.
Destruction of forests on a mass scale has resulted in climate change, irregular rainfall, and soil erosion in some places and drought in other areas. So, it would be apt to mention here that deforestation is not only a major factor in the reduction and uncertainty of rainfall but it also leads to soil erosion, which reduces biomass availability. This can result in lower agricultural productivity. Owing to irregular and insufficient rainfall, insecurity of drinking water prevails throughout the year. Rapid felling of trees/scrubs and overgrazing have only intensified and added to the problems of excessive run-off and soil erosion.
So, let us all join hands to reverse the situation. Every child in the family should be taught about the value of natural greenery, vegetation and tree planting. Let us teach our children the benefits of simple living in a time of scarcity and adversity.